on February 2, 2005
It is a book for those that are tired of the standard, boring photography, like me. True photography is an art in creating a painting out of film. This photographer often made his own type of canvas within the limits of nature it's self. Rather than just take pictures of a beautiful tree as they were, he let you into the world of a tree through various angle shots, multiple shots, and different backgrounds. He created them and didn't just shove a camera in their direction. He made them appear to be living and moving creatures. It's magical and chilling. Instead of just shooting landscape with gorgeous trees in it he chose to make a story behind it all. This was not another average project that was only about seeking the pretty and portraying only that. It feels as though there are real thoughts behind those trees. Or as though there is some bigger idea than just beauty. For example: In one frame he adjusted the focus just a bit to make it seem as though this tree was actually reaching out to you with it's limbs, aching for you to take hold of it! In another it appears as though one unaware tree was caught dancing. These are just some teasers but there is so much more. It's like make-up! Make-up was meant as an enhancer not a total make-over. That just is what he has done. Enhanced something already beautiful on it's own and made it all so alluring. I hope whoever buys this book looks at this peice of art with the mind of, "now this is what it truly is all about." This is what I raid the shelves for in the books I choose to read, in the movies I choose to watch, and in the art I choose to spy apon. Idea. Bigger and better than the creation itself! This is not a book for the coffe table! It is better than that and deserves the study of thought. If you are like me this is a book for you and not just your coffe table chatter like so many others. I encourage all to venture away from normal and step into the universe of imagination!
Here is a high concept book that you may appreciate more if you keep in mind that when you look at a tree, you are not looking at a flat plane that is always perpendicular to your line of vision. When standing on the ground, you are looking at the top of the tree at an angle. Of course the further you get from the tree, the smaller that angle is, but the top of the tree is never the same distance from us as the bottom of the tree.
Jim Balog set out to photograph trees in a different way. What I suspect were his earliest tree pictures were multi-picture diptychs, triptychs and so forth. He also tried to set his tree subjects apart from their environments by erecting white cloth backgrounds. Eventually he decided that the only way he could get pictures of really big trees that didn't have the distortions mentioned at the start of this review was to take several pictures while moving himself parallel to the tree and then stitching them together. Of course that meant that to get a giant sequoia tree he had to hoist himself 242 feet into the air, suspended by a rope, and slowly lower himself to the bottom, taking four hundred and fifty-one photographs, which he later stitched together!
Although this is a book about trees, it is also a book about obsession and courage, although Balog never uses such words to describe himself. It's also about good humor that shows itself in small ways. For example, in the picture of the giant sequoia, we see one of the photographer's associates in the topmost branches of the tree, and as our eyes travel down the long foldout page we see the same associate about 50 feet off the ground climbing the same tree.
One of the things that makes this book of photographs so astounding is that we see something in a photograph that we could never see with our own eyes. In the case of the sequoia, we see this magnificent tree in all its beauty and grandeur for its full length, with no interference and no angular distortion. Again considering the sequoia, although the pictures of the tree are carefully stitched together so that we can recognize its unity, we also see the horizon repeated and repeated, because, of course, no matter what height we see from, we can never exclude the horizon.
This work reminded me of Bertolt Brecht, who believed in distancing the audience from his plays by using devices that would remind the audience that they were watching a play and not reality. Balog demonstrates that he is capable of stitching together a picture so that it is a seamless unity. But he also leaves those horizon lines showing, or doesn't adjust his colors between joined frames so that they don't blend perfectly, or even shows a thin black rule separating the segments of a composite picture. Like the painter Magritte, the photographer seems to be saying "This is not a tree!"
But it is not just these wonderful composites that speak to us so strongly. For example, in the open book before me, I'm looking at a picture of a lovely lignumvitae with a white fabric background that the breeze is blowing so that we can see a building pressing against the fabric, and through the fabric, and even directly, where the fabric has been wafted to the side. I can see the shadow of the lower part of the tree against the fabric and across the bottom of the picture is a gray concrete sidewalk. How beautiful it seems to me.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the author's words. Sometimes they show affection for the trees, and sometimes for his associates in the project, and sometimes for the people who live with these trees. Sometimes there is a sense of melancholy for these trees, which like all living things, will die. Often the words of books of photographs seem like an adjunct. Here though, they tell us about the photographer and the subject, and their links, and perhaps, even about our links.
on January 26, 2010
I received this book as a gift from my wife, who knows better than anyone how much I enjoy everything about trees. James Balog does an incredible job of creatively photographing big trees and accompanying these shots with stories and information that will hold your interest. If you enjoy the whole "Upper Canopy" environment and the importance of trees to us as living creatures, you will enjoy this book.
on March 15, 2006
I was a little disappointed in this book. I had been hoping it would be a more affordable version of Thomas Pakenham's "Remarkable Trees of the World"--straightforward photographs of unusual trees. Balog's pictures, however, are tricked up--the trees are wrapped in cloth a la Christo's trees in Central Park, or the photographs themselves are sliced and diced. Balog's book is more art than botany.